Thursday, June 25, 2015

How God Shows Up In The Struggle

Hey Friend,

My co-teacher had left the room to make some copies and so it was just me and a room full of rambunctious four year olds.  I loved working at the preschool.  There is nothing like the arms of a preschooler wrapped around your neck and their mouse-like voice telling you with every ounce of sincerity, "I love you Miss Bev". 

Their smiles gave me hope when many days seemed just plain hopeless.  Their unconditional love spoke volumes to me while another source of love in my life had died.  Their antics and imaginations distracted me from the reality that was my life. 

My husband had left and was having an affair.  He had done the same thing ten years earlier, but we had reconciled.  But, here I was back in the hell of separation and staring a divorce squarely in the face.  Those of you who have experienced this know the pain I am talking about.  There really aren't words to describe the soul-grinder of divorce. 

To further complicate things, when stress rises, my anxiety disorder (OCD) tends to flare (nothing like the enemy kicking you when you're down).  That particular day I was exhausted, stressed, and uncontrollably anxious.  Thoughts swirled in my head that I couldn't push out.  I felt that awful rush of anxiety swell from my feet to my forehead.  Feeling hot and flushed and with tears welling up in my eyes, I knew I had to open the door and just step outside so the kids wouldn't see me crying. 

My director just happened to be walking down the hallway when I stood a few feet outside the open door.  I thought she was coming to give me a hug because she knew what I was going through.  Instead she chided me, "What are you doing outside the classroom?  You KNOW one of you has to be in the room at all times!" 

To make a long story short, a day later I was let go...fired.  I had never been fired in my life.  I had always been the good, overachieving employee.  Never the one who got fired.  It's still a blurr how I drove home that day?  I know the tears distorted the view of the road.   How could my life get any worse?  My husband was gone, my source of income that I needed to make ends meet was now gone, and hopelessness was quickly closing in on my heart. 

In the depth of my pain, I tried to pray, but all that would come out was a guttural, "Jesus help!"  My daughter was off at college and my son hadn't come home from high school yet and so I sat there, all alone, in the midst of my despair and sobbed.  My self-sufficient side said, "Tough it out".  The aching part of me said, "Reach out".  One by one I tried calling my "go to" people - my mom, my best friends, my counselor, my mentor - no one was picking up their phone.  In an unusual move for me, I pulled up Facebook.  Maybe one of my good college girlfriends, or friends in other states, would be on? Someone?  Anyone?

The only person on Facebook at all, in the middle of the afternoon, was Dave - a high school friend of mine.  What's he doing home in the middle of the day, I thought to myself.  Shouldn't he be working?  Maybe he's working from home?  I stared at the screen some more.  Then in my very best English major grammar, I typed something very profound..."Hey". (In the south we say "Hey" instead of "Hi").  No response. Ok, that was stupid, I thought.

Just as I was about to close out of Facebook..."Hey", flashed up on my screen.
After a few pleasantries, I just blurted out, "I got fired today."  The quiet, unassuming guy I knew in high school responded in a way so keeping with his gentle character...  "Would it help to talk?"  he replied.

That was just about five years ago.  On June 2nd, every year, we celebrate "Hey" Day.  This June 2nd was our first "Hey" Day that we celebrated as a married couple.  It turned out that Dave was home that day because he, too, had been let go - one of the casualties of a big company merger.  He, too, had been through the pain of infidelity and divorce. 

When both of us thought that life couldn't stoop any lower...God gave us each other.

There in the depths of our struggles, God showed up in a big way!

"I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you."  (John 14:18)

Not every trial can be wrapped up with a rainbow at the end.  Sometimes struggles are just that - struggles.  God allows them so that He might shape and build our character as well as draw us into His love and build our reliance and dependence on Him.

Struggles take us to the end of ourselves where the loving arms of Jesus are waiting.

It takes perseverance to build character, and perseverance is built through trials

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  (Romans 5:4-5)

Just recently I met with one of the area's top foot surgeons only to get the disappointing news that further surgery would probably not help with the chronic nerve pain I have dealt with for close to two fact it might make it worse.

I was grieving the loss of a long held hope that a stellar surgeon may be the "fix" for my foot that I was looking for.  Still despairing one morning, I dragged myself to the gym to do the weight machines (at least the ones I could still do). 
In front of me, on a stationary bike, was a woman with a shriveled left arm and her left leg in a bulky brace.  With her good right leg she made the bike wheel spin.

Cheerily she chatted with the fellow biking beside her.  She was encouraging him about his post-surgical workout effort (yes I was eavesdropping lol).  I moved to a different weight machine and almost, as if in sync, she moved to a machine just in front of me that exercised only your arms. Though I sometimes have a slight limp, her gait was painful to watch.  Her left side, crippled from a stroke, contorted drastically as she made her way with her cane to the arm machine.  With her one good arm she made the machine go round and, as before, she chatted cheerfully with the woman beside her.

In that moment God showed up and gave me Wanda. 

I knew I had to meet her.  If anyone could have felt sorry for herself, it was her, but yet somehow she rose above it.

It came as no surprise, when I met Wanda, that she credited God for her strength and she simply said to me, when we parted,

"Bev, I just do what I can do."

Even while I was typing away, writing this post and reliving some very painful memories...God showed up.

I lifted my head from my laptop just in time to catch a beautiful yellow finch perched delicately on a pink and watermelon colored hibiscus flower in my yard.  He sat there for awhile and let me just take in the array of colors.  This was the first time I have seen this sunny yellow fellow in my yard. 

Just like Dave, just like Wanda, just like this little bird, God continues to faithfully show up in my struggles. 

In small ways and in big ways, the Creator of the Universe tells me that He sees me...and He cares.

He is "El Roi" - the God who sees.

Look around.  Has God shown up in your struggles?  If you are struggling right now - look around - is God showing you that He's there...that He sees you and that He cares deeply about you!

Dear Lord,  Thank you so much for being El Roi - the God who sees me.  Thank you that you show up in the midst of my pain and you do not leave me comfortless.  Open my eyes to see how you love you delight in me.  Enable me to turn to you in my pain and simply let you hold me.  And, when I am well, help me to continue to rest and abide in you.  You are my Redeemer and Healer.  I praise you for your goodness and lovingkindness toward me.  To You be the glory.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Be blessed...

Redeemer Christian School Update:  Just a reminder that only $10/month will get one child off the streets and out of evil's path and into the school where they can find love, refuge, and hope.  Would you prayerfully consider sponsoring one child? 

Also, the one computer used by the Director and teachers has died.  They are preparing lesson plans and tests the old fashioned way, by hand.  This is tedious and time consuming.  We are setting up a special needs fund and a new computer is first on the list.  Would you consider a one time donation toward a new computer for the classroom? 

If so please send contributions to: 

Bev Rihtarchik (put RCS in the memo line)
103 Silver Lining Lane
Cary, NC  27513

**Note: RCS is not yet a formally registered 501c3 organization for tax purposes.  Legal fees needed to go through this process are cost-prohibitive at this juncture.  The children have been our first priority.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When Quoting Scripture Can Be Like Salt In The Wound

Hey Friend,
I have had a long and unending season of pain in my foot.  I had surgery on it over a year ago when I decided I had had enough of the pain. I developed a rare, post-operative nerve condition and have had a series of excruciating injections attempting to kill the nerve.  I have prayed.  My family and friends have prayed for healing.  After a short period of less pain I began having intermittent bursts of radiating pain in my foot again.  They make it very difficult and painful to walk.  To say that I am sick of this is an understatement.  It's been almost two years of pain. 
I know that people care and are well meaning, but when a few people quoted Joshua 1:9 to me in an attempt to encourage me, it ended up feeling more like salt in the wound.
"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  (Joshua 1:9) 
It's a great verse, when used in the right context.  In this situation it just made me feel worse.  I felt guilty because I definitely was discouraged and I certainly didn't feel strong and courageous.
In an attempt to learn more, I looked up the first chapter of Joshua (from which this verse was taken) which talks about Joshua being installed as the next leader after Moses.  I wanted to know the context of why this was said and by whom. 
In the eight verses preceding Joshua 1:9, the Lord, himself, is telling Joshua that He will give Joshua every place where he sets his foot.  God elaborates on how great the territory is going to be that He will deliver into Joshua's hands. He tells Joshua that no one will be able to stand against him all the days of his life because He (God) will be with Joshua just as He was with Moses.   God promises Joshua that He will lead him and His people to inherit the land He swore to their ancestors. 
After that pep talk, by God himself, of promises about victories, God delivers the line found in Joshua 1:9.
If, after hearing all that, I think even I could muster some strength and courage and not be afraid or discouraged.
Does that mean that we shouldn't quote scripture in an attempt to encourage the down trodden?  No, but I think that we really need to use wisdom and discernment about the verses we choose and the timing of those verses. 
It made me think about all the times that, I too, have plucked scriptures (often out of context) and thrown them out there.  Why? 
I think because I sincerely wanted to encourage someone and wanted to ease their pain.  Honestly, though, I think it is hard for me/us to be around those who are really hurting or grieving.  It makes us uncomfortable because we don't know what to do or say.  Here in America, people like to "fix" things and when we can't fix it, we often resort to what we feel is the next best thing, which is to quote scripture or say something like:
*Telling others to just be thankful that (and then name something worse)
*Encouraging others to "count their blessings"
*Offering platitudes that are cliché
*Telling them "it's all in God's will"
*Telling them that God won't give them any more than they can handle

(It's good to remember to be thankful and count our blessings...and to know our lives are in Sovereign hands, but how well timed is the reminder? Hmmm....)
Really, when you get right down to it, we can be downright insensitive.
So what, then, are we to do?
For that answer, I like to look at "what did Jesus do?"...
We enter the scene...Jesus has just traveled to see the sisters, Mary and Martha.  They are distraught with grief because their brother Lazarus (who is described as the one whom Jesus loved) has died.  The whole town is in mourning over the loss and the sisters are looking to Jesus for comfort. 
Jesus, who is the only man in history that could truly "fix" things, does something much more poignant and moving instead.  He doesn't quote scripture to Mary and Martha and the mourners; He doesn't tell them to count their blessings or offer platitudes.  No, there at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus' tender and affecting manner is overcome with compassion and grief...and what does He do?  He weeps.
Perhaps the shortest, but most powerful verse in the Bible is: Jesus wept.
Jesus set his own pride and interests aside, allowed himself to feel what the mourners felt, and then He wept with them.
The next thing Jesus did was pray to His Heavenly Father.  Then, as the triune God, He raised Lazarus from the dead. 
He "fixed" the situation last, but the first thing He did was to weep.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly (in humbler condition).  Do not be wise in your own estimation.  (Romans 12: 15-16)
* We are to share commonality in other's joys and sorrows
* Like Jesus, we are to be tender and affectionate toward one another
* Remember: It diminishes one's sorrow when others are sympathizing with you
* Enter into each others' circumstances in order to try to see how you would feel
* Don't condescend
Jesus had the power to fix make it all better... yet He wept.
I think we would do well to follow Jesus' example. 
Jesus, I'm sure, was silent.  No words were uttered.  He probably held his friends and simply shared in their pain.  Sometimes actions are needed more than words. Jesus was just there for them.
When offering words of scripture, also do what Jesus did.  First He prayed.  Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment for what is about to come out of your mouth or from your pen onto the page.  Pray with your friend who is hurting.  Then commit to continuing to pray for them.
Pray for God to strengthen them, to help them, and to uphold them.  For these are promises God mas made to those who are suffering. 
Model Jesus to them...
Dear Lord, Thank you for your promise that you are always with us, even in our suffering.  When others are suffering around me, help me to be like Jesus - to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  Jesus set the ultimate example.  Help me to follow it, especially in times when I'm not sure what to do.  Help me to walk, if even for a short time, in another's shoes.  Let me be a fountain that pours out Jesus' love on others.  In Jesus' name I pray, Amen. 

Be blessed...

ps.  Since I initially wrote this post, I saw one of the leading foot surgeons in this area, only to get the news that the probability of "fixing" the problem is slim at best and that further surgery could result in worse pain.  To say that this is disheartening is an understatement.  I know that God is still in the business of miracles and that is what I'm praying for.  I would certainly appreciate any prayers you would offer on my behalf...thanks!

pps: Update Redeemer Christian School:  About 20 more children are seeking refuge at our school (we currently serve 30).  We want, and need, to be able to offer hope to these precious children as well.  Did you know that $10/month (or $120 over 1 year) will pay for one child to benefit from an education and the love they will receive at RCS??  That's all it takes to get them off the streets and into the classroom.  Soon we will be providing profiles of specific impoverished children who need your help, so in the meantime would you please give it some prayerful thought as to whether God is calling you to sponsor a child in order to give them an education, hope, and Jesus' love?

If you would like to join us in our mission and contribute to RCS...

Send checks to:  Bev Rihtarchik (put RCS in the memo line)
                            103 Silver Lining Lane
                            Cary, NC  27513

* Note: RCS is not yet a registered 501c3 non-profit organization (for tax credit purposes).  It will take many dollars in legal aid to do this and our priority right now is the children.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Discovering What God Has Prepared For You

Hey Friend,
My sweet aunt passed away several years ago after a long struggle with Alzheimers.  I knew when she passed that she wanted me to have her tea cup collection.  Though her brain had dimmed those memories, a life filled with adventurous travel was captured in a collection of tea cups from all over the world. 
In an attempt to bring some order to our chaos of an attic, I began going through boxes of her things that had been packed away since her death.  It was sort of like a bittersweet Christmas, opening and unpacking the boxes one by one.  When I got to her tea cups, however, it was like uncovering buried treasure.  One by one, I carefully brought each one to the light of day again.  Beautiful, ornate, colorful, carved, embellished, painted, gilded tea cups from every corner of the world.  I cradled each one as I unpacked them. 
All meant for the same purpose, but each so unique and different from all the rest.
I kind of had to chuckle, too, as I thought of my husband's reaction when he first laid eyes on my collection of 50+ coffee cups.  I can now say that I come by it's in my DNA lol.
Like those cups, we are all created for the same purpose - to be in relationship with God - but how we go forth and be His image bearers is so unique and different from all those around us. 
Many times (and I am now in my fifties), I have said that I'm still trying to discover what I want to be when I grow up. 
What if what we are meant to be was already pre-ordained, and in different seasons, we are meant to be different things? 
For we are his (own) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (born anew) for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (living the good life which he prearranged and made ready for us to live).  (Ephesians 2:10)
The Message version of this verse adds even more depth:  He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. (Ephesians 2:10)

My job, then, as I see it is to work at uncovering my purpose, which God has created in me, in the season that I am blessed with.

Just as I brought each of those tea cups, unique and different, into the light of day, God wants to unwrap each of us to love and serve Him in the unique style in which we were created to do so.  Hmmm....

So where does that leave the pitfalls of:


comparison (Facebook)?




Basically it leaves them in the dust. 

God has given us each our own package that only we can unwrap.

God has a special plan for's up to me to discover it.

Life is meant to be a collaborative effort not a competition.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."  (Jeremiah 1:5)

Being a lover of words, I quickly had to reference the word "consecrate".  In this instance it means: to make or declare sacred or holy, to be set apart.

In both the passage in Jeremiah and in the words from Paul to the Ephesians, the principle comes across loud and clear...

Before God formed you in the womb He knew you.  He set you apart from all the others.  He already has prepared work that only you are meant to do.  He has prepared a way for you in which He wants you to walk that is different from the walks of all the others.  You are created for good works.  He loves you.  You have a purpose. 

We are all image bearers.  We are all born anew and are called to take the Good News to all the Nations.  Exactly how, and where, and when, and what that's going to look like is going to vary greatly from image bearer to image bearer. 

Our job is to seek Him so that we may discover the plan God has prepared for us.  We can know, with joy, that Christ will fuel our steps if we are walking in His will for our lives.

So how exactly do we discover what God has prepared for us?

Seek Him with a sincere and open heart.

Take inventory of yourself and how He has created you. 

What makes your heart skip a beat?

Don't worry if what you are called to is "seen" or "unseen", in front of others or behind others...for ALL are important in God's economy.

Don't be surprised if He calls you to something outside your comfort zone!! (If someone would have told me a few years ago that I would be championing a Christian School in Pakistan, I would have told them they don't have both oars in the water).

Pray and wait expectantly.

Enjoy the discovery process.

Know, without a doubt, that God has a perfect plan designed especially for YOU!! what kind of tea cup are you?  Go discover it...the world is waiting!!

Dear Lord, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I thank You that You have created me in Your image and that You think so much of me that You have set me apart and created for me a purpose that only I can fulfill.  Help me to seek You, to discern what is, and what is not for me to do.  Guide me in the path that You have prepared for me and then give me courage to go forth and be Your image bearer unto the Nations.  In Jesus' precious name I pray, Amen.

Be blessed...

Ps. Update on Redeemer Christian School:  Many more children are seeking refuge inside the walls of the school.  Pray for us as we step forward in trust that God will provide as we slowly enroll more students.  If you feel so led, will you partner with us?  Fact: $120. will provide for an education for one child for one year.  That's $10/month.  If you can commit to seeing one child escape the streets and receive the hope of a Christian education, would you consider covering a year, or half a year, or even two months?  It's amazing how a little can go a long way!!

Send checks/funds to:  Bev Rihtarchik (put RCS in the memo line)
                                   103 Silver Lining Lane
                                   Cary, NC  27513

Please continue to pray for the safety of the director, teachers, helpers,  and children.  Thank you.
Next week I'll be takin' a break to enjoy visiting with company...I invite you to catch up on some posts in the Archives...Happy Summer!